Google Mobile Compatibilty Penalty Begins April 21 - Test to Make Sure Your Site is Okay for SmartPhones

Mobile-friendly sites will be ranked higher in Google Search Results Beginning April 2015. 

The Google Webmasters have let everyone know that beginning next month, sites that are not easy to read on mobile devices are not going to rank as high as comparable sites that are easy to read with a mobile device or smartphone.

In other words, you are going to be penalized starting April 21, 2015 if your website or blog is not compatible with mobile devices and friendly to searches on small phone screens.   

The deadline to be mobile-friendly is April 21, 2015.

Check Your Site for Compatibility with Mobile Devices 

There is an online site that allows you to input your site’s url and determine if you need to worry about this or not.
  1. Go to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and enter a few pages to confirm the compatibility of your site or blog.  
  2. Go to your Google Webmaster Account and check your entire site by grabbing a Mobile Usability Report. 

What if You Fail the Google Mobile-Friendly Test? 

If your site or blog fails the test, don’t panic. The test itself (or your Google Webmaster Report) will explain the steps you need to take in order to have your blog or web site ready to meet Google’s Mobile Friendly requirements by the deadline of April 21st.

You may need to get busy, though.  April 21, 2015 isn't that far away ....

Why Is Google Doing This? 

Google is pushing mobile compatibility because so many of its clientele are searching Google using mobile devices. Google wants to provide the best information to those folk who are using Google and that means pushing those providing content on the web (like you and me and your competitors) to make sure that their stuff is friendly for mobile devices. 

It’s all about delivering the best service to the person choosing Google for a search in lieu of Bing or Yahoo or Ask etc. on their smartphone.  

From the Google Webmaster Central Blog:

When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps. As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns. In the past, we’ve made updates to ensure a site is configured properly and viewable on modern devices. We’ve made it easier for users to find mobile-friendly web pages and we’ve introduced App Indexing to surface useful content from apps. ….
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices. 

For more information, check out:


Amazon 1099 for EBooks on Kindle and Books on CreateSpace in 2015

Your Amazon Books and Federal Income Taxes

If you made money publishing books on Amazon.com in 2014, then you're right to expect a form from them to include with your 2014 income tax return that's due in April.  You should be getting an IRS Form 1099-MISC that tallies the amount of revenue you received from publication sales on Amazon.com during the tax year 2014.

However, things are messy this year.  Like you needed more headaches at tax time, right?

3 Things to Know About Your Amazon Book Sales for Your 2014 Income Taxes

Here's the scoop:

1.  You cannot download your Amazon 1099.

First of all, you cannot go online and grab the 1099-MISC from your Amazon Author Central site.  It's not there (although you can download these things from other sites, like Smashwords).  Your forms are coming to you via the United States Postal Service, mailed to the address you've given to Amazon.  So, if you've moved in the past year or so, check your Amazon account to make sure they have your current address.  

2.  There's more than one Amazon 1099.  

Second, you won't get just one 1099-MISC from Amazon.  Nope.  You'll get one for your ebook sales from Kindle Direct Publishing and you'll get a separate 1099 from CreateSpace.

3.  Amazon is sending out corrected 1099 Forms.

Third, they are being sent late and some are being sent twice because the first round of IRS 1099s had mistakes in them.  Amazon should have sent you an email advising you to disregard the first form and that an amended version was being sent out in mid-February.  

More Information From Amazon

Questions?  Email Amazon at 1099 [at] amazon.com if you have specific issues. There's also lots of information about taxes and your Amazon publications at their Tax Information resource section.

And, remember: this may be a hassle, but the silver lining is that you've made money from your own writing if you're dealing with 1099 issues here -- so congrats!  


Copyright Infringement and Breach of Contract: the Tess Gerritsen Lesson

Tess Gerritsen has a couple of very interesting blog posts discussing her fight over what's hers regarding the movie Gravity.  (You may recognize Gerritsen more for her work as the author of the Rizzoli and Isles' mystery / thriller series.)

Read Garritsen's posts here - they are worth your time, Dear Reader:

Author's Breach of Contract Case Dismissed

The federal judge dismissed author Tess Gerritsen's case against Warner Brothers last week, but the dismissal is without prejudice to refiling.  Variety has an overview of what's just happened in the California breach of contract case.

I'm expecting Gerritsen to come back again; she's not writing from a position of defeat here.  She's lost a big battle, but she hasn't lost the war.

Contract Claims vs. Copyright Violations for Writers

Gerritsen sold rights to her story in a written contract.  When she believed that the contract had not been honored, she sued for breach of that contract.

The decision (assuming a new filing) will be based upon how the court reads the provisions of that deal as they jive with state law.  Part of her continued fight will be the legal connections between two corporations and what was transferred between them.

The rights themselves are her legal rights to the work she created.  The United States Copyright Office provides a nice summary.  These are protected by federal copyright law.

Here's something that I want to clarify, Dear Reader, after chattering about what was happening to Tess Gerritsen got a bit confusing in a conversation I had with a friend yesterday.

1.  You don't own a single "copyright" to your work.  There are several rights that make up "copyright law" and when those rights are violated, a federal claim for "copyright infringement" can arise.

2.  You can sell one or more of these rights for money.  That's how writers get published, of course.

Here's one thing I want to make clear to my friend and to you, Dear Reader: what exactly you are selling to the buyer needs to be clearly understood by both parties and made clear in your written agreement.  The contract will cover the rights that are described within it.

Here are some examples of copyrights:

  • First North American Serial Rights (FNASR)
  • First Print Rights
  • First Electronic Rights
  • Exclusive Rights
  • Excerpt Rights
3.  It is possible for someone to take your work and use it after you've made a deal with them (i.e., a written agreement) and be liable to you both for breach of contract (for the rights sold in the agreement) as well as violation of federal copyright laws (for infringing on your rights that were NOT included in the contract).

Much good luck to Tess Gerritsen in her breach of contract fight.  


Pen Names, Pseudonyms, Nom De Plumes, aka DBAs

News this week is that China is forcing its writers to reveal their true identities, despite the fact that writing under a pen name has been a longstanding Chinese tradition. It’s said to be a part of the Chinese government's attempt to control what happens online.

Some may think that outlawing pen names isn’t that big of a deal; they’d be wrong.
Charlotte Bronte and her sisters published under pen names using the surname Bell; Charlotte's nom de plume  was Currer Bell.  

Pen Names Give You Power   

Pen names are powerful: they allow writers a level of creative freedom that only anonymity provides. Aside from political freedom, there are several reasons that writers choose to publish under a nom de plume.  For instance:

  • Pseudonyms can be important for professionals (like lawyers) who may not want clients to know that they write steamy romance novels or Louis L’Amour-type westerns. 
  • Also, pen names allow writers established in one field or genre to publish in another area without fear of losing readership. 
  • For prolific authors, using pen names frees them from concern that publishing too many books in one year may dilute their market if they were to publish all under a single name. 

There are lots of reasons to use a pseudonym if you are a writer and pen names are widely used by writers today. How widely used? As for how popular pen names are, I leave it to you to surf the web for all the lists of “famous pen names” both past and present - like the 2013 list that Time Magazine provides in its article, “Famous Authors with Secret Pseudonyms.” 

Writing as a Business

Thing is, when you write under a pen name and you publish that work online with hopes of making a buck or two from it, then you’re going into the writing business. At this point, it’s not just romantic to use a pen name, it’s business. 

Which means you might want to consider filing your pseudonym down at the courthouse as a “DBA” (doing business as). Why?

First, filing your pen name as a DBA provides legal notice to the public that you are using another name to do business which may be important to you in the future for various reasons. It proves that the pen name really is you if you ever need to establish that ownership.

Second, it may help to block someone else trying to use that same pen name - if not globally, then possibly within your county or state. It’s a legal argument that isn’t as strong as copyright law but it’s better than going forward and not having this backup.

After all, establishing your DBA isn’t creating a business entity. It’s just providing legal public notice that you are using a fake name to do business.

Setting Up Your Nom de Plume as a DBA 

Getting a DBA set up is pretty cheap and easy. It’s a service provided in Texas by your local county clerk. Just look up the details online (like these set of instructions for Bexar County or Travis County) or give your County Clerk’s Office a call.

One important caveat: if you are serious enough about your writing business to take the time to register a legal notice of your pen name as a DBA in your public county records, and you’re pretty darn sure that you’re going to be making more than pocket change from your sales, then you may want to consider creating a business entity for yourself.  Writers can register copyright under a corporate name just as they can under their personal legal name.

That’s a decision that may need the help of a lawyer licensed in your state — and you may want to run it past your accountant, too.

Pen Name Fun

Finally, here's a couple of fun links for you, Dear Reader, if you are considering a pen name or are just curious about nom de plumes:

Choose your new author alias here using the online Pen Name Generator.
Go here to take the Oxford Dictionary's Pen Names Quiz.


Write About What You Know -- It's Good Advice, Especially for Lawyers Writing Blog Posts

Whether or not Mark Twain advised us to "write what you know" is debatable, but it's considered good advice by many and you've probably heard the quote and considered its lesson.  (I first heard it as advice given to me by poet Naomi Shihab Nye in an early writing class.)

Those who disagree argue that it's exactly what writers shouldn't do -- instead, they should use their imaginations and creativity to write about what they don't know.  They've got a point.  Maybe it is a bit confining for the fiction writer: how could we have Star Trek or Narnia if writers were kept to writing about only the things of which they know?  However, it is particularly wise counsel when the writer is an attorney who is publishing content online for his or her peers, clients, and potential clients to read and consider.

"Write what you know" has been attributed to Mark Twain.

The Temptation to Write About The Unknown in Law Blogs

Law firms who have blogs for legal marketing purposes are always concerned with how their blawg is going to help the firm make rain.  Some track their analytics to see how many times a particular post link has been clicked; others monitor how often the blog has spurred someone to call the firm for more information or maybe even to set up an appointment.

ROI (return on investment) is important to judge.  True enough.

Thing is, if your blog is working for you as a marketing tool then there's always the temptation to boost what you are doing to get more traffic or more potential clients.  To expand your firm's practice or practice areas using the blog.

Conversely, if the law firm's marketing efforts aren't working and business is stagnant, then the firm may be considering new practice areas as a way to boost business.  Writing blog posts discussing that new area of the law may be one of the first toes they put in the water as they segue the practice .  

There's also the reality that after awhile, the blogger runs dry on things to discuss and is searching for ideas and themes for new blog posts.  Maybe new practice area issues or blog themes will be easier to write.

My suggestion:  please don't decide to write posts discussing a new and untried practice area.  It's one thing for a savvy personal injury lawyer, for instance, to decide to focus efforts on a new type of PI theme, like delving into the product liability area.   It's another thing for that personal injury lawyer to decide to market in criminal law just because he (or she) thinks that criminal trials would be exciting, different, fun, or profitable.

Here's why.

Write About What You (or Your Law Firm) Knows

Most blogs aren't taken as seriously as more traditional publications, like your Bar Journal monthly magazine, or even blogs like HuffPo.  Your reader is going to be taking your post seriously, however.  And so will your State Bar should they decide to review your stuff.

It's just smart to write about the practice areas you know and within which you have experience.  If you are an injury lawyer or law firm who would like to venture into criminal law, great!  Go get that CLE and learn your criminal rules of procedure and insure that you are competent to practice criminal law before you start writing posts on your professional law blog about criminal law issues.

Moreover, if you're a personal injury lawyer who writes a blog post (or a series of posts) about criminal law matters, then you are putting yourself out to the public as a criminal attorney just as if you were to buy advertising on a local radio station or an advertisement in the telephone directory.  There are ethical considerations here (and disciplinary rules) that need to be considered when lawyers are blogging.

Bottom line, if you are a lawyer writing about a legal issue on a law firm blog, either have a personal professional depth in that topic via education and/or experience, or may sure to quote your law firm expert who practices in that area as part of your coverage of the topic.  Don't be what my Uncle Billy would call "a man with a hat and no cattle."  It can get you in trouble with readers, potential clients, and the disciplinary authorities.